Head coaches are wildly important in the NFL – more so than in other sports. Responsibilities vary by team, with some calling plays while others are in charge of the 53-man roster and personnel. But regardless of the job, head coaches are among the most important people in the NFL.
That’s why, in 2002, the Buccaneers decided to make one of the biggest trades in NFL history by striking a deal for Jon Gruden. Tampa Bay sent first-round picks in 2002 and 2003, as well as second-round picks in 2002 and 2004, to the Raiders – along with $8 million in cash – for Gruden, landing their next head coach.
It was a deal that had an immediate impact on both teams with the two meeting in the Super Bowl less than a year after making the trade.
The third part of our 10-day series on the biggest trades in NFL history looks back at some of the lesser-known facts from this deal.
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Gruden was the third coach to win the Super Bowl in his first season with a team
Only twice in NFL history had a coach won the Super Bowl in his first season with a team before Gruden became the third in 2002. It was a remarkable feat on his part, especially because of the team he beat in the Super Bowl: the Oakland Raiders.
Just one year prior, Gruden was the head coach of the Raiders, but a rift between him and owner Al Davis forced the two to split. Do you think Davis regretted dealing Gruden to the team that would eventually beat his in the big game less than a year later? You bet he did, even if he wouldn’t admit it.
“Oh no, no, I don’t. No. Not at all. Nope. Because look, Jon beat us in the (expletive) Super Bowl, that’s the only thing I regret. But take a look at Jon’s performance at Tampa.”
Davis and many other pundits tried to pin the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl win on the brilliance of previous coach Tony Dungy, but Gruden definitely left his mark on the team – even if it did struggle in the years after winning it all.
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Gruden more than tripled his salary with the Buccaneers
With the Raiders, Gruden was the youngest head coach in the NFL. He was unproven and inexperienced, but Al Davis was willing to give him a shot. He just didn’t pay the coach much, giving him a salary of about $1.2 million per year – far below the league average of $2 million with at least 20 coaches making more.
However, when he was traded to the Buccaneers and eventually signed a five-year deal in Tampa Bay, he more than tripled his salary, earning above the league average. His contract was worth almost $4 million per year, which was a nice raise from his previous salary.
The Bucs were the first team to win the Super Bowl without a first- or second-round pick that year
After the Buccaneers traded for Gruden, they were left without first-round picks in 2002 and 2003 and second-round picks in 2002 and 2004. It was a big haul for a head coach, but it proved to be worth it after winning the Super Bowl in his first year at the helm.
One would have imagined the lack of draft picks in the first two rounds would have handicapped the Buccaneers in 2002, but with an already strong roster, they didn’t believe a couple of rookies would make a huge difference. And they were right.
Tampa Bay became the first team ever to win it all in a year in which it didn’t have picks in the first two rounds. That’s telling of just how great the Buccaneers already were, and how capable they were of surrendering those picks without much effect on the roster.
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The NFL temporarily banned teams from trading draft picks for coaches after the Gruden deal
Trading for coaches was much more common 10, 20 years ago. The Jets did exactly that to land Bill Parcells, and the Buccaneers did the same a few years later. However, after Tampa Bay acquired Gruden, the NFL banned teams from exchanging picks for coaches. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a memo out to teams after it was completed explaining that they would no longer be able to agree to deals of this nature for the fact that it might undermine the value of the draft.
Since then, the league has amended this rule to allow picks to be exchanged for “head coaches and high-level club employees,” but the magnitude of the Buccaneers’ trade for Gruden clearly sent shockwaves through the NFL.
The Raiders were a complete disaster after the trade
Yes, Oakland reached the Super Bowl one year after trading Gruden to the Bucs. Granted, it lost, but the fact that the Raiders continued to have success post-Gruden was a sign that maybe the trade wasn’t a colossal mistake.
The Raiders didn’t have a single winning season from 2003 to 2015, with their first coming this past year when they went 12-4. They cycled through nine head coaches after dealing Gruden, who would go on to spend seven years with the Buccaneers.
Bill Callahan, the guy who replaced Gruden, lasted only two years in Oakland before leaving the coaching game completely until becoming the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator 10 years later in 2012. So essentially, the Raiders dumped a young, fast-rising coach for nine guys who failed to match his level of success – outside of Jack Del Rio in 2016. To put it into perspective, the Raiders made the playoffs twice in four years under Gruden, and just once from 2002-15.
As for the Raiders’ four draft picks, they had very little impact in Oakland. After myriad trades, the Raiders wound up selecting Phillip Buchanon, Langston Walker, Tyler Brayton and Sam Williams. Williams had the longest tenure with the Raiders (seven years), but none of the four players made a single Pro Bowl or started more than 50 games in Oakland.
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Bill Parcells backed out of becoming the Buccaneers’ head coach before the trade
Before trading for Gruden, the Buccaneers made an offer to a very high-profile coach in Parcells. He was a couple years removed from being the Jets’ head coach, but there appeared to be some interest on his part in resuming his career. However, after it looked like the Buccaneers would be landing their guy, Parcells pulled out and said he wouldn’t be accepting the offer.
"I am not coaching anymore," Parcells said at the time. "I can't make the commitment. The Tampa job was very appealing ... but I'm done. There won't be any more people writing, 'You just never know with Bill Parcells,' because I'm done with coaching."
Of course, Parcells wasn’t in fact done coaching because he joined the Dallas Cowboys a year later for his last run in the NFL. The Cowboys made the playoffs twice in four years under Parcells, while the Buccaneers won a Super Bowl with Gruden. You be the judge of whether the Bucs lucked out.